Category Archives: Brussels / Brüsszel

Busting some myths about the ‘stage’….


Now that I finished my ‘stage’ (internship at the Commission, but everyone refers to it by its French name) I seem to come across a sort off existing stereotype among people who haven’t done it, but ask me how it is/was.  I could summarize it with the following question I received today: “So tell me. Is it like you just drink coffee all day long and walk in fancy clothes”. Well if it were like this then probably I wouldn’t be thinking of writing an academic article about certain procedural aspects of infringement proceedings that don’t appear in the books.

As with any place where people work, you will come across people who have a higher work input, while others a lower one. This happens at every workplace, be it private, public, academics or firms. I’ve tried them all and it is mostly the same anywhere you go.

Yes we did drink coffee (or juice in my case as I have high-blood pressure) in the coffee breaks or after lunch. But we did not get up from bed in the morning, telling ourselves “Ah! What a great day for dinking coffee”.

How much you work and on what topic will depend on many things. It will depend on your supervisor, the work-load of your unit, and ultimately the stagiaire (intern). I’ve met stagiaires who spent a decent amount of their time on facebook, others who were in the office till 19 pm (yes, from 9 am!) and others like myself who stuck to the 8:30/9:00 am  – 17:00/17:30 routine.

I want to make it clear that the stage is not some kind of big yahoo party place where interns don’t do anything, but party and drink. Far from it! I’ve met some extremely intelligent young people, with impressive CVs, speaking dozens of languages, who lived in multiple countries. It feels a bit like an Erasmus gathering of former colleagues, students you knew but can’t really remember their names. Let’s not forget though, that this is an older generation of people with an average age of 24-28, who by this age have begun their careers and can do excellent work. Most of them have worked previously and know that the quality of your work will eventually reflect in the references and reports your superior’s give you at the end.

As for myself, I can say that it ultimately boiled down to me how my stage unfolded work wise. You cannot expect your supervisor or other officials to constantly baby sit you. You are already a full-grown adult who is required to have a certain amount of independence and determination. Over the months my workload increased, as did my level of independence, arriving to a point where I could coordinate an infringement case for 27 countries, because people trusted my abilities. As with every workplace you have periods when work accumulates and periods when work is less. I must say I had my fair share of work and many days when I cut my lunch break short in order to fulfill my duties.

Also, the stage is there to help people choose a path. Not all stagiaires become officials. If I recall the stats, around 20% of them do. A lot of them choose the private sector, NGOs, firms, national governments. But the knowledge these people acquire in 5 months is impressive. Because the EU institutions are not some pages of a scholarly book, but are people who behave like people. And this is where the stage comes as a valuable asset in life. You get to see first hand how things work, and how different they are from what you read. You build up a network of people, ranging from officials, to secretaries, to interns, to interns from other institutions that will ultimately benefit not just you but the future workplace. Because you can simply say, “Hei, wait a second. I know this guy. Maybe he can answer our question.” Also, even though as interns we earned a fraction of what the officials did (but still a decent salary for an intern), from the conversations I had with my fellow stagiares, I must admit all of them were competent to do the tasks they were assigned.

The party side of the stage happens outside working hours (even the end of year party was after the working hours) or occasionally you might pop a bottle of champagne if it is someone’s birthday. But that’s how office life is. Anyone who has an intellectual job has a different type of work, than let’s say a guy laying down railroad tracks.

My personal conviction is that it has been a wonderful experience that has taught me a great deal, that at point challenged my perception, frustrated me and gave me considerable satisfaction, and which has expanded my horizons from the sometimes strict boundaries of the legal world. I met young, intelligent and driven people who will contribute one way or the other to the benefit of Europe.

So no, the stage is not a big coffee drinking place.

P.S. Plus let’s not forget that this is how Kostas Andersson was born 😉

07.03.2012 – Aarhus, Denmark

Advertisements

Why I don’t like Brussels as a city?


Let’s start with today. We were invited to have lunch with some friends 25 km outside of Brussels, which by train takes around half an hour. Now what could possibly go wrong, you might ask? It is just 25 km… So we get on the train at Schuman station and 3 minutes later we reach Brussels-Luxembourg station, where the train stops. Two minutes pass and no movement. So we wait, and we wait and 20 minutes into the waiting finally someone from the rail company bothered to tell us to kindly get of the train as it has been canceled! We look around… Hmm, no 5 cm snow like last time to bring the whole of Belgium to a standstill. We finally find a conductor, who says he doesn’t know why it got cancelled, but it did and we have to wait. No problem. I relieve myself of my frustration by cursing and go to the waiting room (freezing cold by the way). The next train is in 40 minutes, on track 2… The 40 minutes pass, I relieve my remaining frustration by drawing something on the wall. Before getting to track 2, they change it to track 1. I ask the conductor, who was talking to his buddy on the phone, which track to go to but he didn’t even bother listening to me. Finally he says, track 1 is where the train should arrive. They even show it on the board, just so 2 minutes later to announce that nope, track 2 is the right one. Around 30 people run up and down the stairs to get to track 1…But guess what? Another 6 minutes delay. We get on the train, it turns out they hook it to another one and 30 minutes after we got on it, it finally left. In the meantime no one tells us what is happening, why are we still there. Overall it took us 2 hours to do 25 km (Last Friday a two hour train ride took us over four hours).

So after this small recollection of today’s joyful events, let me say that this article is not for THE PEOPLE LIVING IN THE EURO BUBBLE! This is the real side of Brussels.

Brussels without much exaggeration in one of the dirtiest cities I have ever been to (minus downtown Johannesburg in South Africa). It is just filthy! And I am talking about the main streets in the European quarter. I am not even talking about infamous neighborhoods such as Anderlecht.

So here are my reasons:

  • Most of the times the trains are never on time, the conductors are rude and there is no such thing as informing the customers of what is happening when a problem occurs
  • The metro is utterly disgusting. It is old, ill-managed, dirty and Schuman station under the EUROPEAN COMMISSION looks like it is a warzone! (and has been like this for 3, 4 years now, as long as I can remember)
  • Public works take ages! In a lot of cases this results in dirty, muddy streets in such zones as De Bruckere.
  • It is an administrative mess. There is the Federal Brussels region, but Brussels as such is just one of the 19 communes making up the city. So although you might think you live in Brussels you will end up registering in a completely different commune.
  • There are only a handful of metro stations where disabled people can have access via a lift!!!! This is the EU for Gods sake! Even a small pub in rural Romania is required to have at least a ramp for disabled people. Nope, in Brussels a handful of stations have a lift. The other ones some dirty stairs, or escalators that most of the time don’t work
  • Supermarkets are few, and hipermarkets inexistent. Food is ridiculously overpriced (more expensive than Paris; meat is almost a commodity at 12 euros for a kilo of chicken breast) and supermarkets are dirty, not hygienic and definitely not in line with EU norms.
  • Bike-lanes are pretty much inexistent, or not taken account of. It is definitely not a bike friendly city.
  • A lot of neighborhoods are dangerous and I heard of a lot of people getting robbed or a friend of mine beaten up for a phone. The police are ignorant and helpless and will just write a report so if you have insurance you can recover the value of the stolen goods.
  • Most of the accommodation you rent close to the center either has bad internet, faulty electricity, faulty heating or the hot water just stops all of a sudden (not talking about the ridiculous rent and deposits).  Most of stagiaires had one of these problems (electricity, warm water and bad internet in my case, no heating in other cases, or not being able to shower for days or having a flooded bedroom).
  • Mobile phone calls are ridiculously expensive and customer service is not exactly what operators are renowned for. And people in general are rude!
  • The number of ghettos is rising and I would not like to live in half of the city’s neighborhoods.

The list could go one. The bottom line is that, yes, you find a lot of internationals, yes you have tens of thousands of EU officials or people working in connection with the EU and it is multicultural. But I am sorry to disappoint people, but it is not worthy to be a European Capital. It is just not. It does not set an example! Public security, hygiene, transport, housing is quite a big issue and a lot of EU norms are just not taken into account and most of all it feels like no one actually cares about this city.

Brussels 12 February 2012

Keresem a múzsám…

Nem jönnek okos gondolatok a fejembe az utóbbi időben…Néhanapján egyszerűbb egy rajzzal kifejezni, azt amit akarok…Nos mi a teendő? Valószínűleg az is az oka, hogy egész nap egy képernyő előtt kell üljek és az irodai munka gondolata megfélemlített. Nem tudom mennyire akarok majd napi 8 órát egy széken ülni egy képernyő előtt. Ugyanakkor maga Brüsszel eléggé felemás szájízzel hagy, hisz jó a hangulat, sokszínű, de mégis egy szétszórt, koszos város, ami nem érdemli meg az aurópai főváros címet… Más ok pedig, hogy újból kell pakoljak, szedjem a sátorfámat és ez már egyre nehezebb, hisz megint jönnek a hosszútávú kapcsolat viszontagságai. Ugyanakkor a gyakornoki posztból származó fizúval is alig lehet beérni, hisz Dániában az első pár nap már le kell tegyek 1.420 euró bért és garanciát és az első dán fizúig még 7 hét van hátra….Na szóval, töprengek hisz maholnap 25 éves leszek és meg kell majd gondoljam, hogy mi lesz az elkövetkező pár évben, hisz az egyetemista élet már a hátam mögött. Három évre leszerződtem magam, de közben már ausztráliai csere programon áll az eszem. Érzem a velem egykorúakon, hogy sokan keresik az új lehetőségeket, az új munkahelyt. Sokan megkérdőjelezik eddigi tanulmányaikat, hisz egyre nehezebb  munkát találni és az emberek egyre felkészültebbeket. Ilyen szempontból sokkal jobban állok, mint sokan mások. Már megvan a dániai repülőjegy, lakás is akadt 5 hónapra, a szerződést is aláírtam. Tehát fel a fejjel. Nemsokára itt a tavasz, a 25-ik életévem és egy új kezdet 🙂

Brüsszel, 2012 február 9

 

Coincidences…The World truly is a small place…


This week I had three, might I say awkward experiences. All of them implied one way or another meeting up with a person who I knew, who I met but forgot I met, or a person who I have a common friend with.

  1. The first strange moment happened while signing up for gym this week. I was with my stagiare colleague from the Commission, Valerio, checking out the fitness offers. As I found out, he comes from Sardinia, Italy. I started talking about my Sardinian trip this summer, and how we stayed with my girlfriend at my friend, Micol’s place. Valerio looked at me. ‘What do you mean Micol? Are your sure it is not Nicole?’ – ‘No mate. Micol, a nice tanned girl with dreadlocks’. Valerio looked at me amazed. ‘I cannot believe it man. We used to go to high-school together!’… I met Micol in Hamburg last summer, while attending German courses. But then again the world is small, isn’t it; and now I work with one of her high school mates.
  2. Yesterday night I went out for a beer with my other stagiare colleague from Hungary, Balázs. We started talking about our experiences in the US, and how for some strange reason we have a common friend, Brian. Then I told him about, how the last time I´d been to the US was in 2009, attending a law competition in Washington. ´Wo, wo, wo. Wait just a second. When was this competition?’- asked Balázs. ‘End of March 2009. Brian was the one who picked us up from the airport.’ – Balázs looked at me. ‘And was there a guy in front, sitting next to Brian?’ – I look at him. ‘Yes… a guy from Hunga…’- and then we both start laughing. ‘Noooo way.’ – ‘Yes way’. It looks like we met each other more than two years ago and it took us more then a week now, to figure out that we already met before.
  3. Today I went to wash my clothes at the neighborhood laundry mat. I got in, picked a washing machine, when I spotted my friend Ruxi next to my washing machine. Last time I saw her was 3 years ago, when I was back in Romania and we were members of the ESN. And now we met accidentally in a laundry mat in Brussels.

If you guys have similar stories, let me know J

Brussels, 23rd of October 2011

 

 

Brussels begins… Brüsszel elkezdődött…


The coach roles away and the short three days spent with her come to an end…The drizzling rain started soaking my hair as the Belgian skies turned gray. I am looking at a young man in his mid twenties giving her girlfriend the goodbye embrace… Looks like we share one thing in common… The wheels role away and the bus heads towards the English Channel… The rain picks up while I search for the entrance to the tram station…I’m heading towards De Bouckere to switch to the metro that will take me to Schuman…I didn’t pay the ticket and neither am I intending to do so. Looks like no one does it… The strange feeling of Brussels during a Sunday noon hits me. A city of contrasts, of historical buildings next to high-rise institutions; EU buildings side-by-side with the Moroccan vendor… A sense of order and chaos, as the rickety old metro carriage stops in the brand new metro station. I look around…Tourists filming their metro journey, Turkish men discussing their petty businesses, typical bureaucrats in ties heading somewhere on a Sunday as well, African mommas and two Italian boys singing with a guitar. Their voice fills up the Sunday carriage, but the tips do not fill their plastic cup…The metro stops. Schuman. A group of lost tourists ask me for directions, while I get on the escalator. The Commission building in front of me, next to it a Turkish vendor with flowers and the never ending spitting rain…I pull up the zipper of my jacket, tuck my neck in and head towards Ambiorix. WelcomeBrussels!

 


A busz továbbhajt és a vele töltött, rövid három nap véget ér…A szitáló eső már átáztatta a hajam miközben a belga ég egyre szürkébbé válik. Egy fiatal, húszas éveiben járó férfit figyelek, aki egy utolsó öleléssel szorítja magához távozó társát… Úgy látszik valami mégis közös köztünk…A kerekek elgördülnek és a busz az Angol Csatorna fele halad… Az eső fokozódik, miközben a villamos megálló fele vezető bejáratot keresem… A De Bouckere fele haladok, majd a Schuman fele vezető metróra váltok. Nem fizettem jegyet, de nem is akarok. Úgy látszik senki sem csinálja… Egy furcsa, vasárnapi brüsszeli érzés fog el. Egy kontrasztokkal bíró város  történelmi épületekkel és tornyosuló üveg intézményekkel; EU-s épületek a marokkói árus mellett… Rend és káosz egyszerre, amint a döcögő régi metró megáll a vadonatúj állomásban. Körülnézek… Turisták, akik épp az utazásukat filmezik, török férfiak az apró üzleteikről fecsegnek, tipikus nyakkendős bürökráták, akik még vasárnap is valamerre haladnak, afrikai nagynénik és két gitáron játszó olasz suhanc. Hangjuk megtölti a vasárnap déli metró kocsit, de a pénz sajnos nem tölti meg műanyag poharukat…. A metró megáll. Schuman. Egy eltévedt turista csoportot útbaigazítok és máris a felvonón haladok fölfele. A Bizottság épülete előttem, mellette egy török virágárus és a már véget nem érő eső…Fölhúzom kabátom zipzárját, nyakam kissé összehúzom és Ambiorix fele vetem lábaim… Üdvözöllek Brüsszel!